Another Poem

In June of 1950, dad, mom, big brother, baby, and I
headed out for California in our 1940 DeSoto
to dad’s new job as plant superintendent.
It was a long trip and more’n once we had to stop
‘side the road, scramble down a creek,
fetch ice cold water to douse a steaming radiator
‘cuz that old car was loaded down with
a crib, high chair, boxes tied on top, ‘nuff pans
and clothes to live two weeks until the rest caught up.

When we reached Oakland, we went looking for a place
to rest ‘til we could get our own home.
Stopped at a clean-looking motel, and ma
went in to see what rooms were available.
Woman looked at us sitting in the parking lot
and pointed down the road, saying,
“You can’t ‘ford this. You’ll be happier
down the road where they take your kind.?

Knew right away mom wasn’t no happier.
She didn’t cuss none but sure didn’t have
nothing nice to say about that uppity clerk,
‘cept we could afford anything we wanted
what with dad’s company paying all the bills
for us having to move down there. The other
motel looked worse’n the projects across the street
from our old house, and we sure weren’t no project people.

Maybe that’s why it felt so good,
despite a bloody nose, six months later
when I pummeled the class bully
out behind the old school house
for calling James, who lived with his family
out behind the gas station, “a dumb Okie,?
and James, bigger’n us both, not saying nothing back
just standing there, looking down, quiet and polite and all.


I been
learning to lose
since the day I was born
twenty-three days after that day
which forever lives in infamy.

Mother spent my early days
riveting Boeing bombers,
father spent days and nights
generating ‘nough acetylene
to weld a thousand Kaiser ships,
six thousand B-17’s.
Hardly anyone had time
even to hear me cry.

Lost our home after
big brother’s asthma;
no health insurance to pay the bills.
Spent a year living in an old motel,
dad four hundred miles away
working night and day to pay rent, buy food.

Nearly lost a hand
when it went through the wringer,
left my hand shaped like a cup,
little beggar who couldn’t do for himself.

Hell, feels like I’m still losing.
Sure don’t expect to ever Win.
Probably end up just folding
these cards, slipping away in the dark.

Out of Tune

I felt sorry for Bobby
when his mother
called him off the streets
to practice piano lessons
while we played football,

embarassed when
my teacher asked
me to mouth the words to

“Polly Wolly Doodle?

because the class
followed earlessly as I
wandered off key,

incredulous when
the high school
choir teacher called me in,
asked me to join
the choir after hearing
me perform in a skit.

Finally felt I’d
found my true music
upon reading,
“If a man does not keep
pace with his companions,
perhaps it is because
he hears a different drummer,?

nearly had a flashback,
and broke out laughing
hearing my grandson,
humming the soundtrack
of “Pirates of the Caribean?
while listening through headphones.

Tonight Skye lays
his head sorrowfully
on my lap whenever
I begin humming along with
Baka Beyond’s “Ngombi?
while reading the news,
knows I’m still hopelessly
out of tune.


The true
of Seeing

at all,

it’s not

what you

to see

what you don’t
want to

the dilapidated

the lily,
the one

desperately needing
a coat
of paint

to focus

your attention,
your lens,
this moment

on this
beauty full.